A SAVASANA POSE BY ANY OTHER NAME. . . By: Chris Bishop
Would you like a true yoga teacher confession? [Whispers] savasana feels like shit in my body. Child’s pose is miserable for me. And an easy seat without any support under my butt will have my back hurting in less than 90-seconds.
When I began my consistent yoga practice, I suffered laying on my back with my hands down by my waist and my palms facing skyward. My shoulders always felt uncomfortable, and my hands lifted off of the earth at my wrists. After a year or two, I started placing blocks under my wrists, and that helped. And I started using a block under my seat in seated positions even when that was not cued to me.
By the time I went through my first yoga teacher training, my savasana included my arms stretched out over my head, which was dramatically better for me. I remember asking sheepishly at a cueing and alignment block of instruction, “Savasana is much more comfortable for me with my arms t’ed out to the side or extended overhead. Is that. . . . is that okay?” The trainer, who happens to be a friend of mine, looked at me like I was crazy. She answered softly, “Chris, of course that is okay.”
Our teachers want to sometimes challenge our physical and emotional edges. But they never intended for us to be in pain. As yoga practitioners, we sometimes take our teachers' words literally and at face value when they are intended much less rigidly than we understand. Of course, it is okay to have your arms up overhead in savasana. Of course, it’s good to place a block under your seat if your body calls for it. And of course, it is okay to skip the chaturanga and press directly back to downward facing dog. Or to take a rest in. . . well, not child’s pose for me, but you get the idea.
And even if the direction WAS a genuine rule, that’s a rule that we should break.
Six or seven years ago, I routinely tried to shoehorn my body into shapes that did not feel good for it. One of my lessons over the past two years is that I no longer don’t do things in my practice that hurt me. Now, I love power yoga, and I enjoy a strong, vigorous practice. But I have no problem opting out of an option to add sensation or to take an alternate pose, if my body wants that. And I am much more likely to greet that decision with compassion and approval than would ever have been the case for me before.
I am finding a similar inclination in my practice of teaching yoga. I routinely cue for different shapes than savasana for a final resting shape, although savasana is always on the table for people who wish to do so. And I am beginning to exercise more courage and creativity in cueing for opening shapes, as well.
So here is a lesson that took me a long time and many injuries to learn. It’s always okay to find another option or modify if something in your practice is hurting you. It's always okay to opt out of a sensation-increasing cue. And it’s always okay to use a prop. By the way, it’s also one hundred-percent appropriate to modify in one pose to reduce sensation and modify in a different pose to add sensation. I would consider that to be a healthy and balanced approach in anyone’s practice.
If a pose is causing you pain, particularly joint pain, you may know a good alternative that works similar parts of the body without the elements that cause pain. You don’t need permission or to be cued to use the alternative –just do it. Or you may not have a good alternative. Your yoga teachers are here to serve and support you. Please ask. “Child’s pose hurts my hips and back. Can you offer an alternative?” By the way, if this is the case for you, try anahatanasana, puppy dog pose—you won’t regret it.
The poses and cues that our teachers offer us are provided with purpose and intention. But it was never a rule that we follow every instruction rigidly. I promise that you will still get into “yoga heaven” is you skip some chaturangas or take an alternate pose.